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EU's Michel, Putin discuss possible dialogue role for OSCE in Belarus

FILE PHOTO: European Council President Charles Michel delivers a speech during a plenary session on the conclusions of the extraordinary European Council meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium July 23, 2020. Francois Walschaerts/Pool via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council President Charles Michel and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday discussed ways to encourage dialogue to end the Belarus crisis, including a possible role for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Michel’s call with Putin came a day before an emergency European Union summit at which the bloc will offer solidarity to Belarusian protesters angry over an Aug. 9 vote in which long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory.

Michel, who will chair Wednesday’s video conference of the 27 leaders, gave no details of his conversation with Putin but said in a tweet that “only peaceful and truly inclusive dialogue can resolve the crisis”.

An EU official said that during the 30-minute call, Michel and Putin “discussed the best ways to encourage/assist intra-Belarusian dialogue for a peaceful end to the crisis”, including the option of putting this in the hands of the OSCE.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has offered to visit Minsk in her role as incoming chair of the OSCE, a security body that includes both Western countries and former Soviet states, and often mediates in the region.

The EU has agreed to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials it deems responsible for election fraud and a crackdown on mass protests that followed the election. Lukashenko’s opponents say the poll was rigged.

The EU leaders are expected to endorse the sanctions plan and send a message to Russia that it must not intervene in the former Soviet republic.

Putin, who has offered Lukashenko military help, also spoke by phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. The Kremlin said Putin warned both of them against foreign meddling in the affairs of Belarus.

Reporting by John Chalmers, editing by Ed Osmond